Chesterfield schools implement program to monitor students' online activity

Chesterfield schools implement program to monitor students' online activity
The program has already been implemented for middle school students. (Source: file photo)

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Chesterfield County Public Schools has implemented a new technology tool to keep students safe while they are online, teaming up with Gaggle.

Gaggle is a scanning program that reviews students Google files for inappropriate images or content identified by keywords that might signal concern.

According to CCPS, Google files are reviewed throughout the day by representatives with Gaggle. If necessary, alerts are sent to the school system for investigation and/or response.

CCPS says parents should have access to their children's Google files through children's Chromebooks provided by the schools, and parents are encouraged to monitor their children's online activity.

"Our school division has a moral ethical and legal imperative to involve parents as soon as concerning information is found on our network," the school said in a May 8 letter to parents.

FULL LETTER: 

The letter also addresses the how the school system handles alerts related to self-harm. If those are received, administrators will contact parents or notify law enforcement if the alert is during after school hours.

"If a parent cannot be reached, local law enforcement will be requested to perform a well-check on the student," the letter states. "Information also will be shared with the school's threat assessment team for action up the student's return to school."

The technology program has already been implemented for middle school students. CCPS says that in the past few weeks it has helped families connect with mental health related supports, and it has allowed the school system to intervene in potential conflicts between students.

"As a parent, I do love that they're keeping an eye on what they're doing, what they're seeing and how they're communicating with their friends, especially when they are having conversations on google docs a lot," said Jessica Chandler.

Chandler says her children have told her about situations that have started via Google chat and have turned into fights, so she is happy to see more protections in place.

Parent Elizabeth Trail says while the extra protections are important, families need to always be the "first protectors."

"No computer program is going to replace a parent's protection over their child and being involved and being accountable," said Trail. "Being able to work with them, being involved with them, see their activity, see their computer. Sit down with them, talk with them."

Tech expert Eric Strickler says the last five years have brought a trend in more school system using third parties such as Gaggle for "remote monitoring and management."

"It's a combination of filtering and machine learning or A.I. - Artificial Intelligence - and the third thing is the alert or monitoring component," Strickler explained. "The machines are smart enough to know the difference between someone looking for something about breast cancer, and maybe someone looking something up on breasts - the machine learning kicks in, and filtering agents know the difference in the results that are going to be displayed."

Strickler says programs like Gaggle are cost-effective for school districts, costing just pennies on the dollar for each user, all in the name of protecting students.

"School administrations are not looking for a way to suspend or get students in trouble. They're trying to keep them safe," said Strickler. "I think it's very important and very timely."

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